Now THAT’S An Opening

A good first sentence can hook a reader on a book.

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?”

EB White, Charlotte’s Web

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

The text on the back of a baseball card usually doesn’t grab a reader’s attention in the same way as a good novel. Most cards in the 1952 Topps set begin with something fairly boring, such as “Don was traded to Boston by the White Sox during the Winter Season” (Card #4 – Don Lenhardt). Sometimes the writer tries to interest you with a tidbit of inside information, such as when Card #11 starts off with “The Giants and Dodgers both turned ‘The Scooter’ down as too small at tryouts.”

158 cards into the 1952 Topps set, an introduction jumps out from the back of Eddie Waitkus’ card and smacks the reader in the face. “Shot by a crazed girl in June, 1949, Ed was close to death.” The card goes on to casually mention that he also won four battle stars and was wounded fighting in the Pacific.

Waitkus had been the unwitting victim of a 19-year-old schizophrenic stalker. Alternating between obsessions with famous actors and athletes, a teenage girl in Chicago eventually fixated on the Cubs’ all-star first baseman. She built a shrine dedicated to him, constructing it from hundreds of photos and newspaper clippings. The Cubs traded Waitkus to the Philadelphia Phillies before the start of the 1949 season, sending the stalker’s plans in a darker direction. When the Phillies returned to Chicago to play the Cubs, she booked a room at Waitkus’ hotel, invited him to her room, and shot him in the chest.

Waitkus survived (barely) and his attacker was institutionalized. He eventually recovered, returning to the Phillies lineup in 1950 and helping the team to its first National League pennant in decades.

“Roy Hobbs felt a surge of freedom at the view of the western hills.”

Bernard Malumud, The Natural

The mention of Roy Hobbs is not a coincidence. Bernard Malamud’s The Natural was published the same year as this Eddie Waitkus card. Malamud combined the story lines of several baseball players in the tale of a mysterious ballplayer. Waitkus is one of those players and his shooting by a deranged fan serves as the trigger for the ballplayer disappearing for 16 years.